Shorty*: Anger — Best Opportunity to Transition from “I-It” to “I-Thou”

Introspection of what is occurring within us as we become angry with one we care about delivers best possible opportunity to move from perceiving others as “It” to a corrected perception as “Thou”; Moving from perceiving the not-me as “Ego-Other” to a corrected perception as “Non-Ego Other“.

Some terms in the opening paragraph needs explanation and for that I relate to the Jewish philosopher Martin Buber (1878-1965 ), whose philosophy revolves around two fundamental concepts describing how one may relate to all that surround him/her: “You” (Ata/At) and “That One” (Ha-Laz); Or, in Buber’s terminology, two types of relationships between “I” and the external world:

I-Thou” and “I-It”.

Since my twin concepts, “Ego-Other” and “Non-Ego Other”, somewhat overlap with those of Buber, I would first explain the two pairs of concepts and then relate to how extremely instrumental they are regarding Tikun (“Correction”), achievable when we become angry with someone we care about; And then, by extension, the Tikun that may prevail in all of our relations with other human beings, including perhaps even those that we “do not so much care about”, namely, total strangers.

Buber distinguishes between two modes of relating to the world around us—  “You” and “That One” (in Buber’s parlance, “Thou” and “It”), and he had repeated this distinction on numerous occasions. To understand it more deeply perhaps it is best to quote from Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy (A Peer-Reviewed Academic Resource):

Martin Buber “is best known for his 1923 book, Ich und Du (I and Thou), which distinguishes between “I-Thou” and “I-It” modes of existence…In his later essays, he defines man as the being who faces an “other” and constructs a world from the dual acts of distancing and relating.”  Buber’s philosophy “is based on a distinction between two word-pairs that designate two basic modes of existence: “I-Thou” (Ich-Du) and “I-It” (Ich-Es). The “I-Thou” relation is the pure encounter of one’s whole unique entity with another in such a way that the other is known without being subsumed under a universal. Not yet subject to classification or limitation, the “Thou” is not reducible to spatial or temporal characteristics. In contrast to this, the “I-It” relation is driven by categories of “same” and “different” and focuses on universal definition. An “I-It” relation experiences a detached thing, fixed in space and time, while an “I-Thou” relation participates in the dynamic, living process of an “other”… Buber characterizes “I-Thou” relations as “dialogical” and “I-It” relations as “monological.” In his 1929 essay “Dialogue,” Buber explains that monologue is not just a turning away from the other but also a turning back on oneself (Rückbiegung). To perceive the other as an “It” is to take others as classified and hence predictable and manipulable, objects that exist only as part of one’s own experiences. In contrast, in an “I-Thou” relation both participants exist as polarities of relation, whose center lies in the between (Zwischen).”

The concept of the dual relations, “I-Thou” versus “I-It”, is not much different from the dual concept introduced by me in explaining the underlying Five Principles of the Ten Commandments: A “Non-Ego Other” and an “Ego-Other”. Therein I wrote, explaining the meaning of these complementary terms (as used throughout the post):

“To understand the concept of “Non-Ego Other”, it is perhaps best to define the opposite. An “Ego other” is a human being whom one considers an extension of his/her own ego. The epitome for an “Ego other” is a slave. However, “Ego other” may appear in more obscure forms, where the potential exists, like a personal assistant, a subordinate (at work), one’s own child or a spouse. All forms of “Ego other” are morally wrong.”

To merge together the above two definitions of the dual-relation that exists in all forms of our relating to the outside world (human beings included), we summarize it as follows:

  • One may relate to another human being as equal to one’s own self. In that case, you perceive the other as whole human being, “Thou” or “Non-Ego Other”, who is deserving of all privileges deemed as inalienable rights to your own self. Two chief consequences of that relationship are “Love thy neighbor as yourself” and “Do not do unto others that which is hateful to you”;
  • Or one may alternatively relate to another human being as extension of the ego in the sense that, as we use our hands and legs and voice and other parts of the body to achieve various goals that satisfy the ego, we likewise use other human beings for same purpose. The “Ego-Other” then becomes part of the inventory of means and ways available to the ego to achieve its goals. In that relationship, the “I” is detached from “You”, who then becomes “It”; And the “Non-Ego Other” becomes an ”Ego-Other”.

The best time to witness the two relations co-exist, co-habituate though in the process of replacing one by the other, is when we become angry with one we care about. This is the best time, indeed an opportunity, to realize the difference between “You” and “It”, “Non-Ego Other” vs. “Ego-Other”, so that we may practice, from within ourselves, to eliminate, in each pair, the latter for the former.

What happens to us when we become angry with someone we care about?

First: Detachment. We emotionally detach ourselves from our partner to an “I-You” dialogue so that a replacement, an “I-It” monologue, takes its place. Once detachment is achieved, a process characteristic to “I-It” relation starts: We label, we classify, we become alienated from the “It” while comparing it to other “It”s, and we start considering means and ways to achieve the ego’s objectives against the one who, just a moment prior, has served as “You” in an “I-You” dialogue. The partner to that dialogue, the former “Non-Ego Other”, suddenly becomes an “Ego-Other”, a subject to the ego’s desires through which to achieve its goals (probably of an aggressive nature).

Needless to assert, once again, that a Tikun starts to take place when we eliminate from our inventory of modes of relating to others the “You-It” relationship, the “Ego-Other” perception of our partner to communication and the subject to our responses; And the Tikun is completed once we revoke “I-You” relations with all living entities surrounding us so that only “I-You” relation exists; and only a “Non-Ego Other” is experienced by us in relating to others, and in determining our responses to all forms of communication received by us.

Experiencing the transformation that takes place within ourselves as we transition from a state of “I-You” to a state of “I-It”, from feeling equal to the* “Non-Ego Other” to experiencing the other as an* “Ego Other” (a legitimate target for the ego’s goals), this experience constitutes best opportunity for a personal transformation.

And that transformation may be achieved when, and if, we witness with wide-open eyes the two sorts of relations, the “I-Thou” and the “I-It”, as within ourselves the latter suddenly start replacing the former when we suddenly become angry.


* A widely-known joke about British males is that when British husbands relate to their wives they would utter “The wife”, but otherwise it is “My car”. An excellent opportunity for Tikun..

I do not take responsibility for the authenticity and truth of that joke. However, I can personally bear witness for some grain of truth in it as I once realized, watching on TV an interview with a Royal Navy officer that had served far away from home and asked what he missed most…


*Shorty is a short post

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